Trigger Warning: This is a review of the film ‘A Man Called Otto’ and mentions suicide.
Old age is undoubtedly one of the most difficult phases to endure in life. The degree of its severity can be influenced by family, health, finance, environment, and the rest. The movie A Man Called Otto (2022) precisely discusses this phase in the life of the protagonist Otto Anderson played by Tom Hanks.
Social exclusion and loneliness of Otto
The beginning day of the story is Otto’s retirement day at the workplace where he had spent most part of his lifetime, doing his favourite job. Otto is a mechanical engineer by profession and he enjoys doing every bit of it. Despite his passion for the job, he remained in the same post for a few years without a promotion.
His poor working relations and frequent anger outburst had earned him this stagnant position, even his juniors whom he had supervised in the past, therefore were placed in much higher positions than him. His co-workers are thus happy at his retirement.
Otto is an enduring man turned grumpy owing to the loss of his only valuable person in life, Sonya, the love of his life. This void is unbearable to him; therefore, he plans to end his life on the same day of his retirement by hanging. Luckily, he is saved by the arrival of his lively new neighbours, a Mexican family. Then, things change so quickly around him that he subsequently rejects his idea of dying by suicide and learns to enjoy life as it is.
Women and their positive imprint on Otto
Throughout the life narrative of Otto, the active role played by the women around him is the most notable in the movie. Initially, during his orphaned young days, Sonya helps him to understand his reality and look at the brighter side of life. This relationship grows from his only company to his best friend, guide and companion for life.
Sonya was a teacher who always stood for justice and treated everyone with kindness. This can be seen in his treatment of Malcolm, a former student of Sonya at school. When Malcolm is pushed out of his home for identifying his male sexuality tangled in a female body, he is quickly received and entertained at home by Otto because Sonya had always cared for Malcolm at school and stood by him. He even gifts Malcolm with his favourite Fiat, asking him to take good care of it. The couple’s housing in the town and friendship with their same-aged couple Reuben and Anita is initiated and fostered further by the disposition and activeness of Sonya. They share responsibilities for their housing villa and remain connected for life as family friends.
The couple, Otto and Sonya plan to have a baby, a few years into their marriage. Though they hopefully wait for their child, their hopes are dashed to the ground by the bus accident in the later stage of her pregnancy. They lose the child and Sonya becomes half-paralysed for the rest of her life. The defective brake system of the bus and the immobility caused by the infrastructural development by the villa association causes them to rise for their rights. This voicing many times takes a violent turn for Otto since they caused irrevocable damage to his life.
Adding to this, Reuben, the only close friend of Otto supports the housing firm and declines the demand of the man. It creates a great rift between Reuben and Otto, but despite all this, Sonya tries to bring Otto to terms with the world around him. Sonya teaches him to forgive and move on, taking everything in life with a positive strain. Even after a few years into the death of Sonya, Otto misses her deeply which takes him to visit her grave frequently to converse with her. While talking to her, he finds peace and company, with Sonya he becomes an ordinary husband with a straight way of life. But her absence destroys him and he plans to put an end to his solitude.
The new tenants and cultural change they bring over
Otto’s plan to end his life is frozen by the moving in of new tenants, a Mexican couple Marisol and Tommy with their two young girls. Marisol is a pregnant woman, more energetic and active than her husband. From their initial entry into the scene itself, it becomes clear that Marisol is the lady of their household who keeps things going. She understands Otto and the silent suffering he undergoes without him telling her of any. Every tiny help by Otto is reciprocated by Marisol with her culinary skills. It develops in Otto, a homely feel and concern that he has not experienced for a while. Also, she does not allow him to be alone and always keeps her eye on Otto. This prevents his subsequent suicidal attempts by shooting and suffocation.
Marisol tries to involve Otto in small tasks thus, both learning with him and trying to console him. She asks him to take her husband to the hospital, babysit her girls, pleads to him to teach her driving and so on. All these help him to involve in himself and thus embrace his life better. His disposition gradually changes, he replaces himself with the old Otto who was caring and compassionate, therefore he picks up the street cat and lets him live in his house.
Otto reunites with the Reuben couple and helps them to fight the real estate firm that tries to drive them out of their home. Finally, Marisol helps to move the belongings of Sonya in an attempt to make him forget her. Otto is at last in terms with Sonya’s death, but can never forget his soulmate.
His internal peace leads to his peaceful departure, long-awaited by Otto after the death of Sonya. Before his death, he gives his house, savings, cat and car to Marisol and her family. Marisol is overwhelmed by this kind gesture and keeps up with his expectations of her. His last act of liberally giving to this family is in weight equal to a father’s act of giving to his daughter. To Marisol too, his smiles and gestures remind her of her father whom she deeply misses.
Women building community and home
Though known, it is mostly an unacknowledged fact that women’s efforts in building relations and mending the old ones are highly appreciable. Here, Marisol observes and instantly identifies a stranger like Otto and the trauma he silently endures himself without any support. Although their first encounter with Otto is not a positive one Marisol persists in studying him, therefore she does not leave him alone. This leads to his escape from suicidal thoughts many times throughout the narrative. Her constant efforts in consciously intruding on Otto’s home teach her that he is not together an old and lonely grump. It reveals his softer side looking for the care, attention and respect which he used to enjoy before the death of Sonya.
Thus, Marisol takes upon Otto as a good friend and later, more like her father. As a woman, Marisol is presented as a quick learner of cars and humans too, with her liking for cooking and persuasiveness gathering Otto’s attention and need for consolation. On the contrary, if she neglected him like the whole set of people around him, that might have led to his untimely and pitiful death.
Another example is Shari Kenzie, a social media journalist who finds Otto and his heroic deed at the railway station in rescuing an old man from death. Shari hosts the web series ‘Everyday Heroes’ interviewing people from the town who do exemplary acts like Otto’s. She is another powerful female character in the film, who succeeded through her social media networks and who stands independent, courageously rising against oppressive acts. And, it is with her support that Otto helps Reuben from the encroachment by the real estate brokers.
The director Marc Forster hence fills the Otto narrative with female presence and the impact it directly has on every male character in the movie, highlighting mostly the protagonist. And, it means to say that, all it takes is to embrace the women in one’s life and to appreciate her.